The U.S. administration is set to announce a new program to resettle certain Afghans as refugees in the United States, Reuters reported, citing an administration official and two other sources knowledgeable on the matter.
The report said the U.S. State Department will likely announce on August 2 the creation of the Priority Two refugee program, according to the three sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters said.
The report comes as the Taliban militant group continues to seize territory across Afghanistan while U.S. and other foreign forces near the completion of their withdrawal from the country.
President Joe Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups to aid Afghans at risk of Taliban retaliation because of their association with the United States during the 20-year U.S. war.
Biden has vowed that Afghans who helped the U.S. military will not be left behind as U.S.-led international forces work to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year.
“Those who helped us are not going to be left behind,” Biden said at the White House on June 24, a day before he meets with visiting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation.
Administration officials have been cautious about discussing the relocation plans amid concerns about the advance of Taliban militants and the appearance of a mass exodus.
Reuters reported that the administration official it spoke to said the new refugee program would pertain to Afghans who worked for U.S.-funded projects and for U.S.-based nongovernment bodies and media outlets.
Those Afghans do not qualify for the program — known as Special Immigration Visa (SIV) — that covers interpreters and others who worked for the U.S. government, and their families.
The Reuters report said about 200 applicants under the SIV program whose visas are in the final stages of processing and family members flew to the United States last week at the start of an evacuation effort that eventually could involve as many as 50,000 people.
According to the administration official, the new Priority Two program for Afghans will differ from a refugee program for Iraqis that has been indefinitely suspended due to a U.S. probe into suspected fraud related to the effort, Reuters reported.
Under the Afghan Priority Two program, applicants will be need to be referred by U.S. agencies, senior U.S. officials, nongovernment bodies, or media outlets, Reuters cited the administration official as saying.
The looming exit of U.S. and international troops has created uncertainty, especially amid the Taliban’s recent gains on the ground. Some U.S. lawmakers have openly worried about the Taliban returning to power, recalling their treatment of women and girls under a strict version of Islam when they ruled from 1996-2001.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that a new U.S. intelligence report assesses that the Taliban could possibly capture Kabul within six months. The report was a revision of previous analyses said that Afghanistan’s government could stand for as long as two years after the troops leave.
Roughly 650 U.S. troops are expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main American military force completes its withdrawal, AP quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying on June 24.
According to the officials, several hundred additional American troops are to stay at Kabul’s international airport, potentially until September, to assist Turkish troops providing security, as a temporary move until a more formal Turkey-led security operation is in place.